(Content notice: Josh Duggar, pedophilia, child sexual abuse.)
The scandal around Josh Duggar has had a few days to ferment. News sites that previously hadn’t even breathed a word about the scandal are now tiptoeing into the waters with super-carefully-worded pieces about what he did, now that it’s painfully obvious that Christians as a group are talking about it. Mainly, unfortunately, they’re largely defending it.
I want to take on some of the main excuses I’m hearing from Christians about Josh Duggar and his crimes. I find these rationalizations infuriating, but this sure isn’t the first or only time we’ve ever heard Christians trying to rationalize away that which is absolutely morally reprehensible. Christians themselves fall into some predictable party lines on the whole issue: sane, loving Christians are horrified by what he did and condemn him wholeheartedly, while toxic Christians defend him to the skies.
Politician, hothouse orchid, and perennial Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee took a break from getting the vapors from the idea of women cussing (PS: Fuck you, Mike FuckingHuckaFuckabee) to become probably the biggest name in politics (among a field of worthy contenders for the title of “Duggar BFF”) to cozy up to Josh Duggar and his parents in their time of (self-inflicted and entirely deserved) trouble. Though defenses of the pedophile and his enabling parents abound, I’m going to focus on this one because it pretty much covers all the notes of denial, gaslighting, abuse, and perpetrator-coddling that self-serving fundagelicals sing whenever their tribe’s power and privilege get threatened.
Here is the Facebook post in question, reprinted here because I’m not sure he’s going to leave it up forever:
Partial transcript: Josh’s actions when he was an underage teen are as he described them himself, ‘inexcusable,’ but that doesn’t mean ‘unforgivable.’ He and his family dealt with it and were honest and open about it with the victims and the authorities. No purpose whatsoever is served by those who are now trying to discredit Josh or his family by sensationalizing the story. Good people make mistakes and do regrettable and even disgusting things. . . No one needs to defend Josh’s actions as a teenager, but the fact that he confessed his sins to those he harmed, sought help, and has gone forward to live a responsible and circumspect life as an adult is testament to his family’s authenticity and humility. . . It is precisely because we are all sinners that we need His grace and His forgiveness.
Incidentally, it’s worth mentioning that his Facebook post containing these nuggets of ickiness turned out to be too much even for his die-hard fans, many of whom wrote comments to it indicating that he’d lost their support. When I looked at it earlier today, the ratio of angry comments to supportive ones was close to 50:1 or thereabouts. Not like anybody really expected the guy to get far in the Presidential race, but he’s definitely destroyed what little scrap of a chance he might have had.
So here are the reasons why Mike Huckabee thinks that everyone should just shut up about Josh Duggar.
Mike Huckabee’s main excuse is that Josh Duggar was simply too young to understand what he was doing.
That is bullshit, and he knows it’s bullshit.
Even at 14, I knew that certain things were totally wrong and off-limits–and so did Josh Duggar. He snuck around hiding his pedophilia from his parents until he got caught more or less red-handed by his father. People who hide what they’re doing know they aren’t supposed to be doing it.
Was he woefully unprepared to handle his emotions and feelings? Were his sex education and moral education both so horrifically lacking that he didn’t understand concepts like consent, boundaries, and sexual agency? That seems like a foregone conclusion at this point. But it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know when someone would like you to stop doing something you’re doing to them, and from what I’ve seen, the girls he victimized were making clear that they weren’t happy with what he was doing.
This wasn’t some innocent childhood experimentation, either. I’ve seen a few rather sickening defenses of Josh Duggar along those lines, which just further demonstrates that fundagelicals have no idea what consent means. Children cannot consent meaningfully–especially not girls being raised in such an abusive environment as an extremist cult community. Josh Duggar would have been one of these girls’ authority figures. Consent isn’t just about being able to say “yes,” but about being able to say “no”–and how easily could these children have refused an authority figure, especially after being taught from infancy that they are responsible for the reactions and behavior of the men in their lives? But even by those revolting standards of pseudo-consent, these defenses utterly fail. The abuse was reported at least once by one of the children to the Duggar parents (if you’re wondering what they did in immediate response, you probably shouldn’t), and the 2006 police report characterized the pervert’s predations as “forcible” molestation. That at least implies that his victims weren’t happy, willing participants embarking with their abuser on a joyous journey of self-discovery.
If Mike Huckabee is saying that his religion’s extremist teachings produce teenagers who don’t understand what pain looks like when shown by other people, or how to stop doing something that is clearly hurting another person, or how to respect other people’s boundaries, then maybe someone needs to explain to him–using very small words–that those teachings are obviously broken and his religion is a bad thing for the humans on this planet and possibly for sentient beings everywhere.
And if he’s saying that youth excuses serious crimes, then I’m calling him–and the Christians echoing this sick denial–double deceivers. Fundagelicalism is totally all about treating young children like adults. It always has been. Its homeschooling guides sexualize the bodies of even the youngest of their girls in the guise of “modesty” indoctrination; one of those guides even has a boy who committed crimes like Josh Duggar’s blaming his pedophilia on his sisters’ clothing choices (the boy in the article probably isn’t Josh Duggar; the article was written well before 2003–which means, depressingly, that at least two boys exist in the fundagelical world like that–and enough besides to warrant pages of crocodile tears and horrifying diagrams in homeschooling booklets, which makes me ask what the fuck these people are doing so wrong).
Even when we’re not talking about disgusting perversion around kids and inappropriate burdens laid on all-too-young shoulders, I’ve personally seen social media posts from proud fundagelical parents beaming about their six-year-old child’s “decision for Christ” and subsequent baptism. When I was Pentecostal, I often saw adults held to decisions made in early childhood to be preachers or evangelists. Young people were encouraged to marry as soon as they hit the legal age to do so, and a girl was never too young to make babies. I once got side-eye for expressing concern that a barely-legal, about-to-marry church acquaintance had expressed a desire to get knocked up as quickly as possible after her wedding day. Children are rushed to adulthood as quickly as possible in that culture–especially girls. When that angry guy from Duck Dynasty opined that men should commit statutory rape in marrying girls as young as 15, he wasn’t saying anything new or weird to his audience.
But now, suddenly, fundagelicals are whining that we’re the ones being all mean to a person for crimes committed in his teens? What self-serving nonsense!
It’s worth noting, as well, that Mike Huckabee governed a state (Arkansas) that prosecuted juveniles as adults starting at 14 years of age and didn’t do anything to change those laws. His general sentiment on the topic is a masterpiece of political doublespeak: “A child who commits an adult crime cannot be treated in a childish fashion, but neither can he be treated in the same fashion as an adult criminal.” I truly don’t know what he would have done to an underaged child molester had he been governor when one’s prison file crossed his desk. But I do know that he very famously allowed the early release of a convicted violent rapist who went on to immediately rape and murder another woman after parole.
2. Josh Duggar made amends and atoned properly, so it’s mean to keep talking about his crime.
This is also totally bullshit.
Josh Duggar has been lying his ass off and doing his damndest to minimize and negate the damage this news is causing to his family’s and his religion’s reputation ever since his parents found out what he was doing back in 2003.
Every not-pology Josh Duggar has made has avoided naming exactly what he did. And let’s not forget that the not-pologies he’s issued were only made under the direst and most extreme of duress, years after the fact. He and his parents went to extraordinary lengths to hide the evidence of his crimes. The parents held onto the information they had for almost a year, and even then their response was to talk to church buddies about what they ought to do. A few months later, they asked a state trooper who was a family/church friend to give Josh Duggar a good long lecture about the error of his ways, but the trooper didn’t write a formal report or file charges despite being a mandatory reporter (possibly because that trooper overly sympathized, being a child abuser himself–not long afterward, he got sent to prison for child pornography). The church had suggested Josh attend a formal therapy program, but the family ended up quietly shipping the kid off for a few months to guy who was doing some home remodeling and then calling that good.
Is that what fundagelicals really think child molesters should be penalized with? A lecture and a little physical labor?
And we’re the immoral ones?
For a year, moreover, the Duggars were not only fully aware that Josh was molesting little girls under their roof, but they let the little creep stay under the same roof as those victims. There is no indication whatsoever that they actually protected these children, much less got them justice or help recovering from their ordeal. They swept everything under the rug, the lot of them. One trembles to imagine what those little girls’ “forgiveness” must have looked like, given that in their religion they don’t have the option of not forgiving their abuser.
There was never atonement, there was no contrition, and the apology comes after years of dedicated silencing tactics to hide the crime. In point of fact, the whole family has been busy exporting hatred, overreach, and bigotry in wads and loads–but ignoring the sin that was literally lurking in their own house. I’m not required to “forgive” him or to accept these half-assed, self-preserving token gestures.
3. It was just a mistake! Don’t we all make mistakes?
No, we don’t. Not like that.
This excuse asks us to consider Josh Duggar’s extended predation of those children as just some innocent mistake like anybody could make. It’s super-important to these zealots that we relate forcible molestation to real mistakes, so we don’t see him as quite the inhuman monster that he is–or for that matter his parents as monsters for protecting him, or his religion for promoting the ideology that breeds a teenager who does the stuff he did. Mike Huckabee’s defense of him, echoed many times over in the Christ-o-sphere, is that he’s a “good person” who just happened to do something really bad–like any of us could say of ourselves.
And that’s bullshit. I realize that selectively pretending all sins are equal plays into the fundagelical mindset, wherein a little white lie is considered just as bad as murdering millions of people, and where there is only one punishment for dying in a sinful state–being physically tortured forever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever without hope of rescue, rehabilitation, escape, or transmutation of the sentence–but all fundagelicals are doing when they talk like this is reminding everyone of the utter moral bankruptcy of their worldview. Because I’m sorrynotsorry, but molesting little girls is not a mistake that people make. Molesting children, by definition, makes someone a bad person. A good person cannot by definition molest children, and it’s an insult to good people that Mike Huckabee and his tribe went there.
When I forget I have a bill due, overcook a pie, step on the cat’s tail, or drop a cup, that’s a mistake. When someone forcibly molests little kids, that is not a mistake. That is a despicable, evil act that cries out for justice and that good, moral people don’t just ignore or downplay. Malice and victimization aren’t mistakes that “good people” (to use Mike Huckabee’s term) make, like whoopsiedoodle! Josh Duggar just accidentally did all this horrible stuff to these kids. Every single time he or one of his defenders characterize his actions as “a mistake,” that tells me that there’s no accountability going on here at all, no real contrition, and no intention of fixing the culture that made this abuse happen and get silenced for so long.
The reason that Josh Duggar and his defenders keep making that characterization, however, is that if they can keep up a pretense of innocence for the predator then this whole scandal might go away. Because everybody makes legitimate mistakes (not the re-labeled type we’re discussing here, but real ones), if they can only convince people that what happened falls under that definition, then they’re a lot closer to sweeping that outrage under the rug. Think about it: What kind of asshole refuses to forgive a real mistake or to accept a real apology? And why should Christians seriously examine their culture and teachings if Josh Duggar was just some aberration?
4. The people lambasting the Duggars are mean ole hypocrites.
Do the people saying this mean hypocrites like Mike Huckabee himself, who criticized President Obama for letting his daughters listen to pop music he doesn’t like, but who defends an admitted, grudgingly-confessed pedophile to the very skies? And as far as I know, President Obama’s daughters have never tortured and killed any dogs, so maybe he’s doing something more correctly than Mike Huckabee is. No wonder he’s defending Josh Duggar and his buddies Jim Bob and Michelle–they’re as bad as he is, and he knows it.
Or do they mean like the dead-eyed pedophile himself, who took a job with the hate group Family Research Council Action to demonize and dehumanize LGBT people on a professional basis–all the while knowing that for years he himself molested little girls and had covered it all up with the aid of his parents?
Or, ya know, maybe they mean Saint Michelle Duggar, who earlier this year recorded a robo-call to campaign against the rights of trans people, comparing them to pedophiles and suggesting they’d molest children if allowed to use the bathrooms in stores–all the while knowing that her straight son had molested little girls for years and that she had helped her husband cover it all up?
If this isn’t hypocrisy, then what in hell qualifies for the label in these Christians’ minds?
Maybe I should close with a quote from a concerned parent and Christian minister in describing a similar situation.
Some things are either right or wrong. It doesn’t matter who does them. When Hollywood hero Roman Polanski drugged and raped a 13-year-old girl and then fled the country instead of facing the consequences of his own guilty plea, there should be no defense of him from anyone. What he did was evil and reprehensible. . . he robbed a child of far more than Bernie Madoff stole from his victims. What has our culture become when people can commit despicable criminal acts and yet get defended and excused because they are celebrities. . . And instead of actors and even governments seeking the release of Roman Polanski, they should be screaming for justice. Our country was brilliantly designed by our Founders and nurtured in the Providence of God to withstand many points of view, but it cannot stand having different rules of propriety based on a person’s celebrity status.
Oh wait, that was a quote from Mike Huckabee in 2009.
I guess it’s different when the child abuser belongs to his own tribe. Christians are aware of what a huge black mark this scandal is in the face of their religion. The Duggars have been long held up as scions of godliness, holiness, nationalistic fervor, and propriety in a movement that considers itself the very best expression of all of those qualities. Mike Huckabee is trying his best to pander to these sorts of Christians, who constitute a demographic he believes can help him in various ways, and that means a certain amount of slobbering must be done over the Duggars as the self-appointed representatives of all that is right and holy in Christendom. So when one of the sons of these scions turns out to be an immoral, lying, abusive hypocrite who has committed unspeakable crimes against children, the PR machine must spin into action.
Mike Huckabee wrote his post to try to guilt people out of scrutinizing and criticizing Josh Duggar, his parents, and his religious movement. They’re doing this by trying to make Josh Duggar look like some kind of innocent who just made a whoopsie in his pants by accident one day while he was on his way from the church food pantry to the Boy Scout soup kitchen–and to refocus the conversation on poor widdle ole Josh and his supposed contrition and sadness over what he did, and about how mean all this continued outrage is, rather than on what the conversation needs to be about and–despite their very best efforts is about: the religious movement that privileges men over women, that strips women of their rights and voices, and that inevitably leads to scandals like these. They’re all hoping the rest of us just forget about that, or the little girls who were hurt and who without any doubt in the world have not gotten justice or real help recovering.
Well, we haven’t forgotten, and we won’t.
I’ve got no doubt we’ll be seeing a lot more of these scandals before his movement finally slithers back into irrelevance. Mike Huckabee is going to be writing a lot of these defenses in the coming months and years if that’s where his sympathies are.
In the end, you can tell what kind of person a Christian is by who and what he or she defends. In this case, the Christians defending Josh Duggar are telling me loud and clear that they privilege an abuser over the children who were abused, and who are bothered more by how his crime reflects on their religion and themselves than on this scandal’s real victims: those little girls.
I’m more glad than ever that I’m out of this religion, seriously!
We’re going to be talking about this idea of forgiveness soon. Christianity claims a monopoly on this idea, but it’s hardly unique to their religion. We don’t stop forgiving just because we stop believing in woo.